Magic Down By The River

Story and photos by Jennifer Lee

The 2nd annual River & Roots Festival at Watermelon Park on June 26 and 27 may have been a little damp and muddy, but the spirits of the nearly 1,000 attendees were soaring the whole weekend thanks to a combination of excellent music, beautiful surroundings, and unique offerings for people of all ages.

The David Grisman Sextet was the music headliner Saturday night, playing old and new favorites of his self-described “dawg music,” a combination of bluegrass and Django Renhardt-influenced jazz. Lilting jams floated over the river and crowd, culminating performances by ten regional and national acts including Pat Donohue, The Hillbilly Gypsies, Danny Knicely with Wyatt Rice and Mark Shatz, White Top Mountain Band, Town Mountain, The Hot Seats, and Furnace Mountain. Local favorite, The Woodshedders, capped off the weekend with a jam-packed party of revelers under the Dance Tent on Saturday night.

“Despite the rain, everything went well,” said Frazer Watkins, co-founder of Shepherd’s Ford Productions, the group who puts on the Festival in partnership with Watermelon Park. He said the biggest reward of this year’s festival was having the participation of several environmental organizations and other groups. The Friends of the Shenandoah River hosted a special interactive activity for kids; The Downstream Project hosted a wildlife photography workshop with National Geographic photographer Ken Garrett; the Piedmont Environmental Council engaged participants to be ‘Watershed Heroes’ to protect river and stream health; and local farmers demonstrated cheesemaking and discussed their farming practices.

“We were able to exceed our contribution goals to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper and we selected Friends of the Shenandoah River (FOSR) as the 2016 recipient of the River & Roots Award,” Watkins said. Shepherd’s Ford Productions and Watermelon Park Campground donated over $3,000 to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper this year and will be able to give FOSR even more in 2016.

Kids had a blast at the festival, too, as evidenced by the dozens of them playing in the river, hula-hooping and dancing near the stage, roasting marshmallows over campfires, and participating in the first Kids Talent Showcase for singers and musicians aged 2 to 12. River and Roots calls itself a “transformational festival, changing lives and the world by offering sustainable practices and community building in its foundation.” The joyful sounds and sights of children playing, impromptu bands forming around campfires, families frolicking in the river, and old and young alike enjoying very fine tunes on the shores of our beautiful river demonstrate its success.

Watkins and fiddler Dave Van Deventer formed Shepherd’s Ford Productions in 2004 to present roots music through festivals, concerts, and studio recordings. This year marks the 12th of their annual Watermelon Park Fest, headlined this year by none other than Loretta Lynn and joined by over a dozen other acclaimed performers, September 24 to 27. So, if you missed River and Roots, you still have a chance this year to enjoy great music and friends in what really is one of the happiest places on Earth!

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